Tuesday 30 September 2014

The Astrognome #2, Mars Today pod arrives in York

Astrognome Arrives in York 

The red planet has arrived in York in the form of the Astrognome’s MARS TODAY pod. It will be on display at the National Science Learning Centre at the University of York during October and November.


Mars Rover

There is also a one sixth scale model of the International Space Station Astrognome pod. In 2015 Tim Peake will become the first Briton to visit the ISS.   

one sixth scale model of ISS

Details of all Astrognome exhibitions can be found at www.astrognome.co.uk

Thursday 25 September 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Thursday 25th September 2014

September 25th 1795 discovery of R CrB

25th September 1795 The Sooty Star

This star now known as R CrB was discovered to variable by Edward Pigott while living in the city of Bath.

Pigott had worked with John Goodricke in the 1780s in York where they became the ‘Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy’.  After Goodricke`s death in 1786 Pigott move to Bath to continue his astronomical work.

R Crb is the prototype of a small class of rare variables stars that remain at maximum brightness and then suddenly and unexpectedly fade from sight. When R Crb is at its brightest it can easily be seen with binoculars. Then it will begin to fade in brightness for a few weeks until binoculars are not powerful enough to find it and a telescope is required to see the star.

It is believed that clouds of carbon form around the star, then condenses and blocks the light as it turns into a ‘soot cloud’. Later when the cloud clears the star returns to its normal brightness, until  the next time.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Thursday 18th September 2014

September 18th 1965 Comet Ikeya-Seki discovered

One of the brightest comets of the last 1,000 years, the comet was discovered independently within 15 minutes of each other by the amateur Japanese astronomers Karou Ikeya and Tsutomu Seki.

The comet is of the sun grazing group type of comets. At its brightest Ikeya Seki had a magnitude of -11,its tail was 40 degrees long.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

The Astrognome #1 17th September 2014

The Mars Today pod part of the Astrognome`s Mars exhibition can be seen at the European Space Agency`s Education centre in the STEM centre at the University of York from October 1st until the end of November.

This pod shows a Mars rover exploring the surface of the planet against a painted back- scene of the Martian surface. Watch a film of NASA`s Curiosity rover as it explores Mars. In addition to the graphic panels much more information can be  found on touch screen computers.

The pod which is full size measures 4 metres square but they can be designed to fit the floor space in any museum or science centre.

In addition there will be a one sixth scale model of a pod showing the International Space Station (ISS) where Tim Peake will become the first British astronaut to visit the ISS in 2015.

Kind Regards

Martin Lunn MBE FRAS
The Astrognome

For more details please go to http://www.astrognome.co.uk/News-and-Events/

Astronomy Scrapbook Wednesday 17th September 2014

September 17th 1764 the birth of John Goodricke.

John Goodricke 1764-1786, One of the Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy

This is the story of John Goodricke, one of the most talented astronomers of all time. Deaf from a very early age, he had a tragically short life but his contribution to astronomy was immense.

The Goodrickes were an English aristocratic family with an ancestral home, Ribston Hall, near Knaresborough in North Yorkshire. John was born in Groningen, Holland on September 17th, 1764 to Henry and Levina. Sadly, after an illness early in his life, the infant John was found to be deaf.

In the early 1770s John’s parents returned to England and settled in York. The young John was sent to Edinburgh to a school for deaf children run by Thomas Braidwood. We have little information about this part of his life; it is possible he learnt to lip read and probably to speak as well. Sign language had not yet been devised. In 1778 he was sent to the Warrington Academy, a famous Dissenting school which had no special provisions for children with disabilities.

It was at the Warrington Academy that he developed a great interest in mathematics, science and astronomy. After three years he left Warrington to live in the Treasurer’s House near York Minster, now in the keeping of The National Trust. It was here that his astronomical career was to begin. His astronomical journal started on November 16th 1781.

 A year earlier a distant cousin had also moved to York. Edward Pigott lived with his father Nathaniel in a house that survives to this day as No. 33 Bootham. Edward and his father were both astronomers.

Together John Goodricke and Edward Pigott forged a partnership that would push back the frontiers of astronomy.  Not only would they make discoveries but like true scientists they would try to explain them, and their five year partnership would make York one of the astronomical centres of the world.

The two astronomers came together in 1781, a few months after William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus from his home in the city of Bath. The scientific community was abuzz with all things astronomical. They must have seemed an odd couple; Goodricke, a deaf youth of just 17, and his older cousin Pigott who, having spent much of his life living in France, liked to dress in the flamboyant French style.
The Pigott’s observatory has been described as the third best private observatory in England, while Goodricke observed from a room in the Treasurer’s House using a small telescope.

Pigott and Goodricke knew of a star in the constellation of Perseus called Algol, or Beta Perseus. The constellation depicts Perseus holding the head of the Medusa.  Algol marks the eye of the Medusa. 

As far back as 1669 astronomers had noticed something odd about this star. It is what we refer to today as a variable star, because it varies in brightness. The world Algol means ‘The Winking Demon’.  Goodricke observed the star and recorded that it remained at its brightest for 2 days, 20 hours, 45 minutes, and then faded away for about 10 hours before recovering again to its normal brightness. Goodricke’s observations came very close to modern estimates, even though he had only his eyes and a clock to work with.  

As Goodricke couldn’t hear the clock ticking, a servant beat out the seconds with a finger so he could accurately work out the time. Goodricke was obsessed by precise timing. When he was observing Algol from the Treasurer’s House and Pigott was doing the same from his observatory in Bootham a few hundred metres away, he worked out that if they used the chimes of the bells in York Minster, they needed to allow for the extra time it took for the sound to reach Pigott.

Goodricke and Pigott correctly deduced that there was another body orbiting Algol, causing the light to vary. They believed that it could be a planet; we know today that it was another star. Today astronomers find planets around other stars using the principles put forward by Goodricke and Pigott. Their ideas were over two hundred years ahead of their time.

John Goodricke was only nineteen in 1783 when he wrote to the Royal Society about his observations and thoughts on Algol.  He was deaf and unknown outside of York, but Edward Pigott moved in the right circles and knew everyone of importance in astronomy. He contacted his friend the Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne and soon Goodricke’s work was published.

The effect on the astronomical community was electrifying. All over the country people were observing Algol and Goodricke was awarded the Copley medal by the Royal Society, the highest award they could give.  

Goodricke and Pigott had made a remarkable contribution to variable star astronomy and this was just the start of their endeavours.

September 10th 1784 would become a night to remember in York, with not just one but two new variable stars being discovered. Goodricke found Beta Lyra in the constellation of Lyra (the Lyre), while Pigott was discovering Eta Aquila in the constellation of Aquila (the Eagle).

The indefatigable Goodricke was to discover another variable star, Delta Cepheus in the constellation of Cepheus (the King), on October 24th 1784. This star is of immense importance today as it is a prototype for the Cepheid type variables which are used to determine how far away galaxies are. Goodricke could never know of the importance of this star to astronomy.

More reports were sent to The Royal Society. Astronomers in London must have wondered what on earth was going on in York!

Goodricke’s short life was nearly over. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society; a most prestigious honour for someone so young, but never knew about his election because he died on April 20th 1786, two weeks before the letter arrived. He was only twenty one, and observing the night sky in the very cold conditions of the time probably contributed to his death from pneumonia.

Pigott moved to the city of Bath where he continued observing the night sky and in 1795 he discovered the variable stars R Corona Borealis and R Scutum. I have christened Goodricke and Pigott ‘The Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy’.


Saturday 13 September 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Saturday September 13th 2014

September 13th 1902 Crumlin Meteorite fell.

On the 13th September 1902 a meteorite weighing 9 pound and 5 and a half ounces landed  at Crosshill Farm ,Crosshill which is a mile north of the village of  Crumlin,  County Antrim, Northern Ireland.. The meteorite is  7 1/2 inches long, 6 1/2 inches wide and 3 1/2 inches thick. The meteorite was sen to fall by people picking apples in the fields.

The Crumlin meteorite is the largest stone which has been seen to fall from the sky to the British Isles for eighty-nine years, and is larger than any which has fallen in England itself since the year 1795.

The caption of the cartoon reads:
The British Museum has “Collared” another Irish Treasure…the remarkable meteorite that fell near Belfast during the period of the British Association’s visit to the city in September last. Dublin “Daily Express,” November 13, 1902.

Astronomy Scrapbook Saturday 13th September 2014

Sept 13th 2006 Pluto relegated to dwarf planet.

On the 13th September 2006 the planet Pluto was relegated by the International Astronomical Union to the status of a dwarf planet.

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in America in 1930 and became the solar system`s 9th planet. However astronomers suspected that Pluto which was a long way from the Sun and was also very small There doubts right from the beginning as to whether it was a planet or large asteroid.

In 2005 the trans neptunium object now known as Eris was discovered, it was slightly larger than Pluto. Astronomers had to decide whether to classify Eris as a planet or dwarf planet.

 They decided on the latter, because they assumed many more objects the size of Eris would be discovered in the future and we could very easily end up with a solar system containing many dozens of planets.

On this basis because Eris was larger, Pluto was re classified as a dwarf planet.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Tuesday 9th September 2014

September 9th 1658 an early Isaac Newton experiment

A 16 year old boy in Lincolnshire amuses himself trying to calculate the the wind`s force. First he jumps with the wind, then directly against it. After measuring the length of each leap, and comparing it with the length he can jump in still weather, he rates the storm in feet.

Isaac Newton claims that this is one of his earliest experiments.

Monday 8 September 2014

Little Gnome Astronomical fact # 11

A Night to Remember in York Sept 10th 1784

John Goodricke and Edward Pigott were two astronomers who lived in York during the late 18th century and for a brief moment in time they made York one of the astronomical centres of the world. It was on September 10th 1784 that a fantastic night in the history of astronomy occurred with not one but two variable stars being discovered from York. They are the “Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy”

The city of York has been described as a snapshot of English history but the astronomical part of York`s story if often overlooked.

They started their observing careers by explaining the light variations of the star Algol in the constellation of Perseus. Algol which marks the eye of the Medusa in the sky is called ‘the winking demon’ and was known by astronomers to change in brightness but they did not know why. Goodricke and Pigott correctly guessed that the changes are due to the fat that there are two stars passing in front of or eclipsing each other causing the light to change.

However on the 10th September 1784 Edward Pigott discovered that the star eta Aquila was changing in brightness he rushed over to Goodricke to tell him the exciting news only for Goodricke to show him that the Beta Lyra was also varying.  Until 1784 only four variable stars were known to astronomers.

 John Goodricke and Edward Pigott both came to York in 1781 they were distant cousins, Goodricke was only 17 a deaf youth and Pigott at 28 much older and having lived in France had a very flamboyant dress style compared to Goodricke’s English conservative  aristocratic style.

Pigott observed from his father`s house in Bootham, York,  it was described as the 3rd best private observatory in England, while Goodricke observed with a small telescope from the Treasurers House near York Minster.

They not only discovered that some stars change in brightness, they then as true scientists, they tried to explain what was causing those changes. In fact some of their ideas such as their conclusions regarding Algol are similar to those used today by astronomers looking for planets around other stars. Their thinking was over 200 years ahead of their time.

Goodricke would discover another variable star, delta Cepheus which is used by astronomers today to work out the distances to galaxies. Pigott also discovered a comet while in York.

 Their partnership would only last for 4 years Goodricke died in 1786 aged 21 probably from pneumonia he had been made a fellow of the Royal Society for his work but sadly died before the letter reached him. Pigott moved to city of Bath where he carried on his astronomical work.

There is another anniversary concerning shortly, this will be the 250th anniversary of the birth of John Goodricke on September 17th 1764.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Little Gnome Weather Fact #3

September 3rd 1928 How a cold day and an open window changed medicine for ever with a wonder drug.

On a cool day Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming  returns from holiday to discover piles of culture dishes with bacteria lying around, he left a window open in his lab, he notices that one of the dishes is contaminated with a greenish yellow mould . Fleming then notices that between the mould  and the bacteria is a clear halo where the bacteria had not grown.

In a eureka moment he realises that the mould must be releasing a substance that is stoping the growth of the bacteria. Fleming names the active ingredient of his mould 'Penicillin' after the Penicillium notatum mould from which it comes.